Life’s Choices: The Ones We Make, and the Ones We Want our Students to Make

Let’s be honest: Students struggle. Not always, not every day, but very often. According to psychologists, students nowadays show an increase in certain psychological disorders1 which often leads to more severe challenges in adulthood. Additionally, the school system is adding its share of pressure and stress.

This is the part where we as grown-ups, teachers, instructors and professors come in. Acknowledging that these struggles are a vital part of a student’s maturing process, we should be aware of the temptations that modern day technologies offer them. Billions of online sources and thousands of ghostwriters are putting their traps out there for students. According to a study done in the US alone, 62% of all Bachelor students and 40% of all Masters and PhD students admit not including correctly cited phrases or even entire paragraphs to their papers during their degree2

Why is this a problem? Well, cheating students are endangering their own future – and the future of our education systems.

The hidden agenda of school assignments: Personal development

There are three aspects of what students should learn in school. Firstly, the subjects being taught: mathematics, history, geography, chemistry, you name it. This grants students a solid liberal education that enables them to get a good and a promising career.

Then there is educating students to think critically and become original writers. Only when students reflect on a topic and then write it down in their own words, can they develop abstract and analytical thinking abilities. Cheating students won’t be able to develop these skills.

And last but not least, is the moral and ethical development of students. According to Kohlberg’s model, a person’s moral compass is formed during their childhood and adolescence3. If the cheating goes on without being discovered or being penalized, the student’s moral compass regarding right and wrong may be difficult to adjust when they are older.

Damage to an education system is damage to society

During the last couple of years there have been plenty of examples of politicians that were revoked of their PhD title, or of medical doctors that based their studies and habilitation on thesis’ containing parts copied straight out of Wikipedia. If people claim to have certain knowledge that entitles them get into certain roles in society where their decisions make an impact on other people’s lives, we should be sure that we can trust these people and their knowledge.

Early prevention instead of late intervention

The challenges for education on an individual as well as on a societal level are manifold. We at PlagScan do not claim to have a solution for all the challenges that were discussed above. However, we are convinced that some of them could be avoided if fair and equal education standards were enforced on a nation-wide level. If education were just as ‘blind’ as justice, students could be taken by their hand through their struggling phase – and be taught the things they should learn.

‘Blind’ algorithms and a nation-wide standard

A software and its underlying algorithm is unbiased. It doesn’t judge students based on their ethnic, social or religious background and it is completely fair if every student’s work gets checked. It only detects ‘abnormalities’ or in the case of plagiarism, ‘similarities’.

Abnormalities or similarities might signal that students chose to take a shortcut. They might have copied phrases or even passages right out of another online source. They might have not written the text they claim to be the author of by themselves, but instead got someone to write it for them. To ensure that the education system is and stays fair, these checks should be implemented as a nation-wide standard for higher education.

Chances and limitations through the PlagScan Software Solution

In our session at OEB, we will go into further detail of how the software works, what it can detect, and what its limitations are. In the end, we all have to decide for ourselves: Which decisions do we make to support students in their daily quest for knowledge and personal development and which ones we want to leave to them.

Written by Verena Kunz-Gehrmann

[1]  Twenge, J. M., Cooper, A. B., Joiner, T. E., Duffy, M. E., & Binau, S. G. (2019, March 14). Age, Period, and Cohort Trends in Mood Disorder and Suicide-Related Outcomes in a Nationally Representative Dataset, 2005-2017. Retrieved October 14, 2019, from

[2] Dr. Donald McCabe, study on Academic Integrity during  2002-2015: Retrieved October 14, 2019.

[3] Kohlberg, Lawrence (1971). From Is to Ought: How to Commit the Naturalistic Fallacy and Get Away with It in the Study of Moral Development. New York: Academic Press.

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